UN aid convoy set to depart for conflict-hit Congo areas

November 3rd, 2008 - 2:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Nairobi/Goma (Congo), Nov 3 (DPA) A UN aid convoy for providing urgent supplies to tens of thousands of refugees displaced by fierce fighting in the east of Congo was set to depart Monday morning, an aid official said.The convoy is to be the first aid for people trapped behind rebel lines since the forces of general Laurent Nkunda of Tutsi tribe fighting the armed Hutu group began Sunday a four-day advance on the city of Goma, capital of the eastern North Kivu province.

Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) last Wednesday called a ceasefire, which has held so far, and has promised to open an aid corridor.

Aid agencies say at least 250,000 people have been displaced since renewed fighting erupted between the CNDP and government forces in late August. As many as 50,000 of these people fled in the last week, many of them to the Goma area.

“Our priority is to restart the activities at many health centres in the area,” the BBC quoted Gloria Fernandez, head of the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Goma, as saying “We’re taking health supplies, water, and sanitation,” she added.

UN peacekeepers, who pounded rebel positions with helicopter gunships during the fighting, are to accompany the convoy, which was originally due to depart Sunday.

There is no clear picture of how many of the refugees are surviving, with reports of people living in the open and resorting to foraging for food in the forests.

Many of the displaced have taken advantage of the ceasefire to begin wearily trudging home to their villages from Goma, where Congolese troops routed by the rebels last week went on a looting and killing spree.

Diplomatic efforts to end the crisis continued over the weekend.

British and French foreign ministers David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner met DR Congo President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa, Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Kigali and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete in Dar es Salaam.

Miliband and Kouchner issued a joint appeal for reinforcements to the UN peacekeeping mission in the DR Congo (MONUC) and called on the Congolese government to control their troops.

“We cannot turn away - it is a matter of urgent necessity to resolve the crisis,” they said in a joint statement.

MONUC chief Alan Doss said last week that his troops, which number 17,000 across the whole of the sprawling central African nation, were stretched to their limit by the conflict.

The Congolese and Rwandan presidents have agreed to attend a regional summit aimed at resolving the conflict, most likely to be held in Kenyan capital Nairobi.

Western diplomats feel that the only way to resolve the conflict is to bring Rwanda and Congo together at the table.

Congo has accused Rwanda of backing Nkunda and there were some reports of cross-border firing during the fighting. Nkunda says he is fighting to protect Tutsis from armed Hutu groups.

Many Hutus fled to Congo after the 1994 massacres in Rwanda when Hutu militants killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the space of a few months.

The CNDP and other groups in January signed peace accords designed to end sporadic clashes that occurred during 2007, four years after a war that began in 1998 officially ended.

More than five million people are estimated to have died as a result of the 1998-2003 war in the resource-rich nation, most of them from hunger and disease.

The conflict is often referred to as the African World War, owing to the large number of different armed forces involved.

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